Rome | Seeds sail on in lower half of the draw

The form book was maintained in the lower half of the draw at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome on Sunday, as Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Jelena Ostapenko and Danielle Collins sailed into the Round of 16 with straight-sets wins.

I think, after having two very up and down seasons, I finally realised what I was doing wrong, mentally. I just feel, like now, I'm more mature, maybe. I accept that, let's say in Madrid, I was not feeling well. I was tired, I went into the tournament very fatigued because I felt, like, that one week at home wasn't enough. I know it's not ideal that I lost, but at the same time, just take the positives. You're going to have a few days off, which you probably really need, and then you can just go full-on for Rome and Paris.  Maria Sakkari

Sabalenka, the World No 2, was relieved to win her match without dropping a set against Dayana Yastremska, the No 32 seed from Ukraine, 6-4 6-2, in 86 minutes, saving both of the break points she faced and winning 76% of her first-serve points, 25 of 33.

The Belarusian arrived in Rome with a lingering illness that kept her bedridden for most of 4 days, but she managed to come through her 1st-round match in 3-sets before facing Yastremska, a player to whom she had lost 3 times on tour, the last meeting 4 years ago.

“I’m a better player right now – I got more stuff in my pocket to get this win against her,” Sabalenka told reporters, her voice still a little scratchy. “I was going quite confident into this match knowing that I have everything to get the win.”

There was no handshake from Yastremska, as Ukrainian players maintain their symbolic objection to the Russian invasion of their homeland, aided by Belarus.

It did not deter Sabalenka from enjoying the glorious Sunday afternoon, blowing kisses to the adoring crowd on Foro Italico’s Stadio Centrale.

She expressed her love for Rome, but lamented that her sugar-free diet during tournaments prevents her from enjoying the gelato.

“Every time I was losing here, I was so sad,” Sabalenka said. “I felt like I lost on the Grand Slam because it was one of the dream tournaments for me to win. It’s still one of my dream tournaments.”


Two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina saw off Anna Kalinskaya to face Aryna Sabalenka for a quarter-final slot at the Foro Italico

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Sabalenka, who has never won in Rome but is a two-time champion on the clay of Madrid, looks in good shape to at least match her 2022 run to the semi-finals, but the 2nd seed must first navigate past another Ukrainian, Elina Svitolina, the No 16 seed, who saw off Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya, the No 23 seed, 6-3 6-3, also without shaking hands.

Last year, Svitolina accused Sabalenka of inflaming tensions surrounding the Russia-Ukraine war for waiting at the net for a handshake in the Roland Garros quarter-finals, after the Ukrainian had previously insisted that all Ukraine players refused to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian rivals in protest at the ongoing war.

Svitolina, who can look back on her 10-match winning streak in Rome during 2017 and 2018, when she was crowned the Internazionali BNL d’Italia champion in back-to-back years, is attempting to go deep once again in the Italian capital.

“I really like to play here, especially night sessions, it’s really special,” Svitolina said afterwards. “So many great memories. Each time that I step on the center court here, it really brings back all the memories, all the tough matches that I’ve played here.”

In her first career meeting with Kalinskaya, Svitolina rekindled some of her most sparkling Rome form, firing 22 winners, 4 more than the Russian, while the Ukrainian No 1 broke serve 4 times in the match.

The win is a good boost for Svitolina, who fell in the 1st-round here last year, which was only her third tour-level event back after maternity leave.

“To be fair, I played not great last time here,” Svitolina said. “But still, you know, it was nice to play such a big tournament here, to get that feel of a big tournament.”

Svitolina, who immediately regained her form after that early exit, winning the Strasbourg title and reaching the Roland Garros quarter-finals, will now test her Rome rebound against Sabalenka, the player who ousted her in Paris last year.

“I think it’s important to stick to my game,” Svitolina said. “I know that, you know, I can play well here. I try to draw confidence from this.”


Maria Sakkari defeated Anhelina Kalinina, last year's finalist, and will face Victoria Azarenka next

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Maria Sakkari, the 5th seed from Greece, defeated another Ukrainian, Anhelina Kalinina, the No 30 seed and last year’s finalist in Rome, 7-6(4) 6-0, improving her record to 2-1 against her.

Sakkari rallied from 2-4 down in the first-set tiebreak, winning 5 straight points before dominating the second set and landing herself a bagel.

“I think, after having two very up and down seasons, I finally realised what I was doing wrong, mentally,” Sakkari said. “I just feel, like now, I’m more mature, maybe.

“I accept that, let’s say in Madrid, I was not feeling well. I was tired, I went into the tournament very fatigued because I felt, like, that one week at home wasn’t enough. I know it’s not ideal that I lost, but at the same time, just take the positives. You’re going to have a few days off, which you probably really need, and then you can just go full-on for Rome and Paris.

“So it’s just little things that you have to make peace with yourself, and just accept and move forward, because tennis can be very intense, and it can drive you really crazy.”

The World No 6 sat down for the WTA Insider Podcast at the end of her post-match media rounds, already looking forward to a quiet afternoon away from the courts.

“My boyfriend’s here,” Sakkari said. “I haven’t seen him in six weeks, so it’s going to be nice to spend some time with him and go for a nice dinner. And then obviously early night because, I’m playing again tomorrow.”

On Monday Sakkari takes on Victoria Azarenka, the 24th seed who outlasted Mayar Sherif in a 3rd-round thriller, the Belarusian former World No 1 needing 2 hours and 54 minutes to get past the Egyptian, 6-2 6-7(6) 6-3.


Qualifier Rebecca Sramkova continues her run in Rome with a 3-set win over Sofia Kenin

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Later in the afternoon, Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, the 9th seed, overcame a dropped second set to out-duel Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-4 5-7 6-1, in 2 hours and 33 minutes.

It was a roller-coaster of a 3-setter, with Ostapenko firing 72 winners to score her first win over the Spaniard in 3 meetings.

Her next opponent is Slovakia’s Rebecca Sramkova, who ousted America’s Sofia Kenin, 6-4 4-6 6-4.

27-year old Sramkova came through qualifying, and then knocked off wild-card Giorgia Pedone and No 28 seed Katie Boulter before her seesawing win over Kenin on Sunday to reach the Last 16.

Ranked 120, Sramkova now will make her Top 100 debut, an accomplishment the Slovak describes as ‘a dream come true’, especially considering that she was born with a condition that left her with little sight in her left eye.

While her sight did not improve, her tennis did, and she developed a smooth hard-hitting game.

Against Kenin, she reeled off a string of accurate backhand drives. Facing a point to go 1-4 down in the third set, she came up with a drop-shot return winner.

“I don’t know how it is to see good,” she said. “I tried wearing contact lenses, but the vision was not that much different, and I couldn’t stand the feeling.”

Her breakthrough has been delayed by a series of injuries.

“I didn’t play for almost one year because I had problems with my back,” she said of 2017, when she had climbed as high as No 111 at the age of 20, before being sidelined. “Then I had problems with my shoulder and with my abs.

“When I started to play good again, I had a stress fracture in my leg. That was two years ago. I had a surgery in 2022. My bone was in three pieces, and they took two pieces off. Well, it took me three more months to get back in shape.”

“I want to be someone,” she added. “That’s why we do this sport – to be someone. You see all the other girls around you fighting to be someone, and you want that, too. That’s what keeps me pushing.”


Danielle Collins has won 17 of her last 18 matches, and continues her streak with a win over Caroline Garcia on Sunday to reach the Last 16 in Rome

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Danielle Collins, the American 13th seed, kept her latest roll in a WTA 1000 event going by beating No 22 seed Caroline Garcia of France, 6-3 6-3, in 81 minutes.

Collins fired 7 aces while overcoming 8 double-faults, and she won 83% of her first-serve points, 24 of 29.

“I feel, like, I match up well against [Garcia],” said Collins, who has won 17 of her last 18 matches. “We always have great matches, but something about the matchup works out very well for me.

“I played really aggressive from the beginning, and was able to be consistent the entire way through.”

Collins, who is retiring at the end of the season, is playing some of the best tennis of her career and will meet Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, who upset No 27 seed Elise Mertens from Belgium, 6-2 6-0, the only seed to fall on Sunday, in a 78-minute match.


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